Four named among elite future entrepreneurs

From a direct lending platform to connecting businesses to retirees, four Western students are part of a group of just 38 students from across Canada chosen to take their entrepreneurial ideas to the next level.

The Next 36, created with the goal of turning the country’s top students into Canada’s most successful future business leaders and innovators, provides world-class academic instruction, business mentorship and venture building through the support of more than 200 business leaders across the country.

Western’s James Crocker, Engineering; Evan Ferguson, Engineering and Ivey Business School; Aishi Jiang, Science; and Nikita Zhitkevich, Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry, were selected from a pool of more than 630 applicants from 45 institutions across the country. They will spend the next seven months building their companies with the support of their mentors, a unique academic program and pool of business advisors.

Since its inception five years ago, The Next 36 has contributed to the success of industry-changing start-ups with the creation more than 330 new jobs and has seen student entrepreneurs raising more than $34 million in funding toward their business ventures.

Evan Ferguson, Engineering/Ivey Business School

Evan Ferguson, Engineering/Ivey Business School

Evan Ferguson is working to set up a nationwide direct lending platform for automotive buyers that can assist any credit rating profile, including prime, non-prime or sub-prime. The implications of this platform will be that vehicle buyers – with approximately 84 per cent in need of financing – will be able to have multiple lenders compete to offer them financing, independent of the dealership. The customer, either pre-approved or at the time of purchase, will have the freedom to shop at any dealership, or privately, knowing they received the best rate, Ferguson said. He said the platform eliminates the dealerships need to sell financing to the benefit of the customer. Ferguson is also planning to offer warranty at a small margin over cost, whereas dealerships currently have much larger margins on these products.

James Crocker, Engineering

James Crocker, Engineering

Nikita Zhitkevich, Medical Sciences

Nikita Zhitkevich, Medical Sciences

James Crocker and Nikita Zhitkevich are working toward a venture that consists of a web platform to connect businesses requiring part- or short-term help with projects, with recently retired business professionals. The pair believes there are many small companies that would be willing to hire experienced professionals, including lawyers, accountants and others, to help on specific projects, providing a quality of work that cannot be replicated by other demographics. Alternatively, with these professionals just beginning their retirement, these individuals may want to be involved in their fields, but in a much smaller capacity – whether it is to keep busy or earn a small wage.

Aishi Jiang, Science

Aishi Jiang, Science

As part of The Next 36, Aishi Jiang’s team is delving into the field of politics, and figuring out how to use technology to facilitate communication between political decision-makers and citizens. The team is currently in the process of interviewing politicians and government staff, as well as individuals in the community, and learning about the problems they face. Once they have the problem we want to tackle, they plan to find a solution, and have that solution be their project. This will include developing a prototype over the next month. The team is still doing more research and trying to figure out what users need and cannot comment further at this time.